Self-harm in Children

Sadly, children of all ages may engage in self-injury; the fastest growing sector is “tweens” ages 9-14, likely due in part to the influence of social media. Although it is most often devastating and terrifying for parents to discover their child is intentionally hurting herself, it is important to remember that in the vast majority of cases the behavior is not related to a suicide attempt.

If parents discover a child is self-injuring, it is important to seek a professional evaluation. While some children may “experiment” with self-injury due to peer pressure, other children use self-injury to cope with deeply painful emotions, or to communicate needs they have not learned to express in other ways.

Effective treatment of self-harming behavior in children involves a careful, age-appropriate assessment, psychoeducation for the child and family, and skills-oriented, family-based intervention. Evidence-based methods include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy adapted for children (DBT-C), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and family therapy.